Avoid the Hype: Brand Loyalty Depends on Customer Engagement that Helps

avoid the hypeDuring his keynote address at the Modern Marketing Experience conference in Las Vegas last week, Jay Baer, New York Times best-selling author of Youtility, began by addressing anyone trying to increase brand loyalty and customer engagement with words of blunt realism.

“Being great at marketing is harder than ever,” Baer said. “Being in marketing is harder today than it was yesterday. It will be even harder again tomorrow.”

Presented by Oracle, the Modern Marketing Experience offered entrepreneurs a myriad of opportunities to learn from professionals versed in marketing automation, social marketing, content marketing, and big data. Those in attendance were afforded the knowledge required to set and maintain new industry standards in a challenging business landscape, and Baer provided many illuminating insights.

During his session titled, Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help not Hype, Baer explained the reasons behind marketing’s exponentially intensifying difficulties.

It does not matter who an audience is, what its personality is, or what its behaviors are, attention today is completely fractured and massively fragmented. Baer offered a basic example to prove a point. In 1977, the No. 1 television show was Happy Days with a 31.5 rating, which meant that 31% of the country tuned in. Last year’s top show, How I Met Your Mother, did a 6.9.

“Every show we care about now, every show we talk about, every show we tweet about, would have been canceled in two weeks just 10 years ago,” Baer said. “It is much harder to collect our audience’s attention than ever before, because now they are spending time online. And this is very challenging for us all because online has massive, overwhelming competition for attention.”

Baer offered another example via Facebook, where he effectively demonstrated how online competition arrives in a completely new form. In the online world, the personal and the commercial collide. Professional advertisers are seeking attention from users, but so are friends and family members. And it doesn’t matter that the people who send personal emails and Facebook posts don’t buy advertising, it still consumes valuable user attention.

“Online, you are not competing against all the other companies that sell whatever you sell,” Baer said. “If you think that, you have it all wrong. You compete for attention against people your customers actually know and people they actually love. And that is an enormous existential challenge for marketers.”

Another challenge for brands is that almost everything is now public, which means customer experiences and marketing have converged. This has enormous implications for customer reviews that are posted endlessly and with the ease of a smartphone finger tap. These critiques no longer exist as closed channels in the form of, for example, a letter between a displeased customer and the business. These reviews are available for all to see on Yelp, or Twitter, or the social media platform of every user’s choice.

So what do marketers do? How are they to succeed?”

“Here’s my advice,” Baer answered. “Stop trying to be amazing and start being useful. The difference between help and hype is just one letter. But that one letter makes all the difference because you can sell something and create a customer today. Or you can help someone and create a customer for life.”

This is at the core of our new reality. And some brands are finally beginning to wake up and make strides towards building customer loyalty by meeting and exceeding consumer needs.Avoid the hype

Baer offered another interesting example of one very simple thing that Hilton Hotels does to be useful. Hilton has a Twitter program called “Hilton Suggests,” which started out very humbly by asking employees to answer random questions whenever they had the time, inclination, or ability to do so. Now it’s a global program.

An example concerned a man in Houston who tweeted: “Good places to eat near the Magnolia Hotel in downtown Dallas this Saturday?”

This tweet was random, directionless, aimed at no one in particular. But Hilton, jumping at the chance to be helpful, answered by offering two suggestions that were within walking distance of this man’s hotel, which was not a Hilton Hotel.

“So now you have Hilton using staff time and staff resources to help somebody that they know for a fact is not a current customer,” Baer exclaimed. “Three years ago you couldn’t get approval for something like this. People would have called you crazy. But Hilton is not crazy. They are smart. Because eventually this man is going to be in a different city, he’s going to need another hotel, and at that point he will hopefully pick Hilton because they helped him when he needed help. And, importantly, they did so without expecting immediate return.”

Of course Hilton hopes that this potential customer (among with many others) will patronize its hotels eventually. But Baer notes that one of the keys to modern marketing is embracing the power of the eventual. And this is where the central concept of Baer’s philosophy comes into play. Already established as the title of his book, “Youtility” is defined as marketing that is so useful, contributing so much inherent and intrinsic value, that people will pay for it.

Youtility is marketing that people actually want.

This lies in direct contrast to the traditional marketing model that has existed for decades and perhaps even centuries, which is marketing that people only tolerate. Baer challenges professionals to do better, especially now that the tools and technologies are available. He recognizes three types of Youtility.

The first is Self-Serve Information. With the increased amount of choices now, consumers want and need more information to make a purchase. A 2011 Google study found that average consumers now need 10.4 sources of information to make a purchase. And this study, coincidentally, coincided with the massive mainstream adoption of smartphones. Consumers need more information than ever, because they have access to more information than ever. And brands that can help consumers wade through this information will begin to win customer loyalty.

The second is Radical Transparency. Everybody is connected to a constant online web of social information, so most truths are inevitably revealed. Intelligent companies embrace this as fact. Here, Baer emphasizes trust. Lasting relationships, whether personal, professional, or entrepreneurial, are built on trust. One way to gain trust is to put everything in the open, to be honest, and willingly so.

The third deals with Real-time Relevancy. This requires opening a dialogue with customers to find out what they need and how to bring it to them. Data can be helpful. But Baer cautions against the danger of drowning in data.

“As marketers, we are surrounded by data, but often we are starved for insights,” Baer said. “I beseech you to dig deeper, to have customer conversations, to not rely on a spreadsheet or an API or a report for the sum total of your customer understanding.”

The journey may be tough, but taking the first steps down the path, at least, is easy.

Every morning, Baer suggests that brands and marketers get up and ask themselves, “How can I help?”

About the Author: Mark Johnson

Mark is CEO & CMO of Loyalty360. He has significant experience in selling, designing and administering prepaid, loyalty/CRM programs, as well as data-driven marketing communication programs.

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